Visions of Happiness was my final major project to receive my Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. The final form is a photo book (available to purchase please contact me at email@example.com- store coming soon) and the Visions of Happiness Project, a social media and public art project which aims to start conversation and share a more global vision of happiness.
In the last decade the World Happiness Report has been attempting to quantify global life satisfaction by researching and publishing an annual list of the happiest countries in the world. In this case, happiness is not an emotion filled with smiles and elation but is more linked to the feeling of a life well-lived and is deeply connected to external sources of happiness including the urban design, culture, and public policy of a place. Visions of Happiness explores these ideas. I travelled to Denmark, one of the countries that consistently tops happiness rankings, to learn about what it takes to make a society of people truly satisfied with their lives. While happiness research is not a perfect science and is tied up with societal norms and other subjective research methods, it is still a useful metric to be used in addition to Gross Domestic Product to better determine progress of countries. Denmark and the Nordic region are not utopias, but they do have exceptional levels of happiness and well-being. It is extremely insightful to look to our northern neighbours to discover how to live better, more fulfilled lives. There are many images and bits of research about the connection between well-being and the physical environment in this body of work. Cars and sprawling suburbs do not generally create happiness while dense, walkable cities, with close-knit communities are proven to make life better for everyone. In Denmark, cohousing schemes have been created that bring people even closer together in their living environments and provide compelling evidence for why we should all strive to live simpler, more communal lives. However, it is not enough to look only at design to understand the Danish success story. Happiness in Denmark is also heavily affected by culture and the public policy of the country (and Nordic region as a whole). As an American who grew up with very different ideas related to the good life, concepts such as the American Dream and individualism are researched and unpacked throughout the project. It is important to consider how multiple factors combine to create happier, more fulfilled citizens. It is not enough to merely desire people to be happier. A country must promote an environment that enables its people to live a more fulfilled life. The evidence says this comes down to both culture and public policy. Lastly, the project aims to spread beyond the borders of Denmark, explaining that even though the country is small, relatively homogenous, and prosperous, does not mean ideas aroundDanish happiness cannot be experienced elsewhere. The evidence shows that neither their ethnic makeup nor size is the reason for the success Denmark has had in fostering happiness. It is through a series of strategic decisions in how to design cities and communities, in smart public policy, and enabling trust amongst citizens, that sets the groundwork for a better life. And it is a better life- a more sustainable, safer, and happier life- we should be striving to create for all.